How a cheating scandal at a well-regarded public school in New York turned tragic

Jeanene Worrell-BreedenScreenshot via youtubePrincipal of Teachers College Community School, Jeanene Worrell-Breeden.

Jeanene Worrell-Breeden, the principal of a well-regarded elementary school in Harlem, admitted to faking answers on students’ English tests right before killing herself in April, The New York Times reported Monday, citing an official memo from the city’s education department.

The New York City Education Department released the memo Monday with more details on the cheating scandal in the wake of news that the city was invalidating test scores for dozens of third-graders at Worrell-Breeden’s school, Teachers College Community School, because of the cheating.

“The tragic irony here is that by all accounts this school is a runaway success,” City Councilman Mark Levine, told The Times, regarding the invalidated scores. “I’ve visited a number of times and am in regular communication with the parents. They seem to be thriving.”

On April 17, the same day a complaint was filed about Worrell-Breeden’s involvement in cheating, she jumped in front of a subway train. Worrell-Breeden died at Harlem Hospital Center on April 25.

Worrell-Breeden’s death shocked the community at Teachers College Community School. Nancy Streim, the associate vice president for the school, said the community was heartbroken, according to Chalkbeat New York.

“Worrell-Breeden was a forceful leader and a tireless advocate for the school’s children,” Streim told Chalkbeat in April.

Since her suicide, details emerged on her alleged role in cheating on state standardised tests for third-graders.

The memo released Monday revealed that an unnamed person had complained to city education officials that Worrell-Breeden had forged answers on an English exam for students who had run out of time while taking it.

The tampered-with English exams were mandatory Common Core tests, the controversial set of nationwide education standards and their year-end tests.

Worrell-Breeden’s suicide amid a Common Core cheating scandal has already begun to draw renewed scrutiny over the high-stakes testing nature of the exams.

Critics of the Common Core say the high-stakes nature of the exams create perverse incentives that lead teachers and administrators to ensure their schools have good testing results at all costs.

“Some things they do will be good, in line with the objectives. Others will amount to cheating or gaming the system,” Columbia University professor Jonah Rockoff told the New York Times in March.

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